Minnesota Vikings Need Their Rookies to Step Up

Christian Darrisaw / Wyatt Davis
Vikings rookies, including defensemen Christian Darrisaw, front left, and Wyatt Davis practice during NFL football rookie minicamp Friday, May 14, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)

Over the bye week, Rick Spielman did a fair bit of talking with the media. His answers have been equal parts illuminating and bland, intriguing and evasive. In other words, it was the usual Spielman interview(s). Say what you want about our GM, but he generally does a really nice job with the media. He is always poised and never offers info that he doesn’t need to. One of the more fascinating things he said had to do with the Minnesota Vikings rookies.

Here is what Spielman had to say about their overall strategy for bringing in offseason talent:

“Some of the younger guys that we drafted, especially in the third day, are guys that we knew were not going to have to play every day […] If you look at our (unrestricted free agent) class, because of the uniqueness of all the one-year deals that we did because of the pandemic and the way the cap went down, we were able to find a lot more unrestricted free agents than we have in the past.

He goes on:

“So, the philosophy and the thinking behind it is now you have these guys on a one-year basis, you take these draft-class kids — and the coaches do a phenomenal job of developing guys — and then let them develop where you don’t have to push them in right away […] Then, hopefully, if we need them toward the end of the season and you start seeing them play, or if we get injuries or even in the next year, that’ll help determine on which direction we go with some of the guys we’re going to have coming out of contract.”

Spielman approached the offseason with a cohesive vision. The free agent signings – many of which were one-year, prove-it deals – coincided with another large draft class. As he says, the goal was to have veteran players to fill immediate needs as the rookies develop into impact players. Take a peak at what he says toward the end of that second paragraph. By Spielman’s own admission, the Minnesota Vikings were keeping an eye on how the rookies may contribute “toward the end of the season.”

I know the end of the season is still a little ways away, but we’re also not at the beginning. We’ve already seen one rookie take over for a vet along the offensive line. Christian Darrisaw is now the starter instead of Rashod Hill; many are feeling optimistic about his play. No one will confuse this next statement with groundbreaking analysis, but here it is: our first-round LT is indeed our most important rookie. We need him to be noticeably better than Hill.

We’re also going to see Kene Nwangwu take over for Ameer Abdullah. Zimmer plans to begin with Nwangwu on specials: “He’s got great speed, and we’ll try to utilize that on some of the special teams and go from there.” The speedy rookie RB is coming off an injury; to make room for him, Abdullah has been cut. Again, the pattern holds: a vet loses his job in the middle of the season in favor of a rookie.

It’s also notable that Stephen Weatherly has been traded, thereby opening snaps for Patrick Jones II. To be clear, things will have to go really poorly for our rookie DE to start getting starter snaps. Nevertheless, fans should expect him to see somewhere around 10-20 snaps a game. He will be a contributor.

It’ll be fascinating to see who else emerges from the rookie class. What are the chances Wyatt Davis pushes for the starting RG spot? After a strong opening few weeks, Oli Udoh has struggled. Can Kellen Mond replace Sean Mannion as the backup? I doubt it, but stranger things have happened. Ihmir Smith-Marsette may come back as a modest contributor on both offense and specials. Camryn Bynum and Chazz Surratt can hopefully be great tacklers in special teams coverage units.

As you can see, our Minnesota Vikings have already started to lean into their rookies. If we are to overcome our modest 3-3 start, we’ll need these young players to make a positive impact.